We are both moms to girls. MaryAnne is raising two wonderful but very different girls: her oldest is an artist and performer; whilst her younger girl is a tough athlete. My daughter is also an athlete, dabbling in the arts. I also have a little boy, and I think this conversation should, and must, include raising boys, but that will come in another post. And no, this is not a sermon or a guide. I have lain awake in the dark to the glow of my laptop screen trying to find the elusive answers that everyone seems to be professing in so many articles about raising strong and powerful girls, but….we are not there. And I don’t have the answers.
I have been thinking a lot lately about raising girls, as many of you out there probably are in light of all the sexual abuse scandals and the #metoo and #timesup movements; movements that are both heart breaking and inspiring, I find myself uncomfortable with getting swept up in this wave of change. Yes, my passions swell and I so desperately want to see the changes for my children’s sake, and for all of our children’s sake. But my daughter has been navigating the swells and undertows of fifth grade, and it has been a rough year. It has sharpened my lens for seeing the social and school complicity in the culture of silence and antipathy. Change is hard. Standing up and speaking out is hard. Supporting those who do is even harder.
We, like our mothers, were raised to be nice girls. I have read many articles that say our girls are living in a different time, with so many more gender neutral activities and opportunities open to them from playgrounds, sports fields, to boardrooms. But the specter of the nice girl still looms. I want to throw that nice girl into a well. Girls that speak up, have opinions, take leadership positions are often subtly punished with isolation, labelled as bossy or controlling, or silenced. But most disturbing is when a girl is silenced and shamed when she speaks up against bullying and/or assaults and stands up for herself. Her strength in speaking up is then crushed and stamped down and that nice girl crawls out of her well.
The institutions that have been entrusted to not only educate, but also to protect our children, can and do fail. Conflict avoidance of hugging it out and sweeping it under the rug is sometimes not enough. And when a victim expresses physical or emotional pain or is not satisfied with inadequate remedies because everyone is uncomfortable and just wants it to go away, then she is accused of being dramatic. Girls are asked to not be rude: be nice and move on. Silence begins at an early age. Grown women have learned as girls that “telling” does not pay off. How do we teach our children that they just have to be strong and stand up for themselves against the very real social pressures from peers and from adults?
Like I said, I don’t have the answers. I continue to look for answers for my girl, for all girls. Trying to change attitudes in a community is slow and painful work, especially when you are still a part of that community: there are very real repercussions to rocking the proverbial boat. So I am writing this post because this is also a part of our journey, a very significant part, of raising strong, confident girls. I don’t have a script but I can only share our experience.
Our daughters are athletes. Being part of a team teaches many meaningful life lessons. Both our girls are softball players. Why should you put on your cleats and attend every practice and every game: often missing birthday parties and playdates? Because you committed to be on a team and your teammates are depending on you. Being on a team teaches a sense of community, one of their first lessons and experiences in community building. Cheering and supporting others, leaning on others: you win together and you lose together. Life lessons baby! You work and practice consistently to get better – there is no shortcut, only hard work. Teaching a strong work ethic is no walk in the park. We highly recommend Jennie Finch’s book, Throw Like A Girl: How to Dream Big & Believe in Yourself. Our girls loved reading the positive messages about her journey to becoming arguably one of the best softball players in the world. They were so excited to meet her this year at opening night of their softball season. It was awesome for them to see a strong female role model.
Although fifth grade has been a bit of a rough patch for my daughter, refocusing on things that she is passionate about has brought some light back into her days. Both of our girls have also been in the school musical every year, but this year took on even more significance for my girl. She was able to wake up and go to school through some pretty challenging times, because she looked forward to rehearsing after school every day, to spend time with other kids who were there for the same interest and love: to sing, to dance, and to perform. Engaging in activities that they are passionate about goes a long way in building, or repairing, self esteem. Look for upcoming posts on activities that we love for “Raising Girls”. MaryAnne’s daughter has practiced Karate for years, and mine has taken a few Krav Maga self defense classes. MaryAnne’s eldest daughter attends a performing arts school and is a working actor, and mine is just beginning this new journey. ~Saranya